Danica Patrick is carrying a lot of labels this week: First female to win a pole position in a NASCAR race, driver who will lead the prestigious Daytona 500 field, Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year contender.
Lost in it all is perhaps the one for which she will have the greatest impact on NASCAR — now and for generations to come:
Danica Patrick, inspiration to a legion of young girls.
And that doesn’t just apply to random fans. Drivers who carry wins and even championships in the Sprint Cup Series find themselves bringing their daughters to meet Patrick — at the young fans’ request.
Jeff Gordon’s daughter, Ella, got to meet Patrick as the pair posed for photos after taking the front row starting positions at Daytona. But she wasn’t the first famous daughter that Patrick met.
“It was funny because a couple nights before that Carl Edwards came over with his daughter and I’ve known since last year she was a huge fan of mine,” Patrick said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “So she was over at the bus and Carl was saying it’s good that she sees me in real life and in person and in a bus situation because he’s like, ‘To her you’re like some mythical creature that doesn’t exist.’ So she had green shoes on, like green GoDaddy shoes on, she’s a big fan.”
But they weren’t the only ones.
“And then after qualifying, Jimmie Johnson brought his little girl over because she wanted to meet me,” Patrick said. “So that’s three pretty big drivers that have little girls that wanted to meet me. That’s very flattering.”
Patrick says she’s hoping that she can inspire young people just to chase their dreams, not necessarily to buck trends and conventional wisdom.
While she has done the latter in an effort to capture the first, she points out that what she hopes to inspire is simply the desire and ability to believe in oneself.
“I think you can only lead by example and I don’t necessarily want my example to be to step outside the box and be a girl in a guys’ world, that’s not what I’m trying to say,” he said. “But if you have a talent for something to not be afraid to follow through with it and not feel like you are less qualified or less competent to be able to do the job because you are different. It’s to ignore that and let it be about what your potential is.”
Crew chief Tony Gibson says his driver’s impact has been seen throughout Speedweeks. The window to her garage area is covered with writing from fans — young and older — and Gibson has found himself handing out lug nuts that he labels with the No. 10 to a new crowd.
“I have handed out more lug nuts to little girls at those little windows in the garage area than I have since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to see the little kids and the girls, especially, walk up with their GoDaddy stuff and their hats and all they want to do is get a glimpse and get a picture and be a part of it. … I’ve gone through, I’ll bet you, 50 lug nuts I’ve handed out to little girls. I think that’s really cool for our sport and I think that’s going to help our sport grow.”
As to Patrick, as with everything else, she’s just taking it in stride. She says that she doesn’t know how so many young children actually know who she is. But she’s certainly pleased that they do.
“I think it’s an interesting thing, though,” she said. “It’s a very flattering situation I find myself in. I enjoy being inspirational to these kids.”